Review, published in MESH film/video/multimedia/art #10, November 1996
MESH is the journal of Experimenta Media Arts, Australia
Garth Paine/Craig Madoc's
an intelligent virtual environment installation at Linden Gallery, Melbourne,September 1996
In this material world, a door is still a door no matter how hard or how softly one walks
into it. This was not the case with MQM, a virtual environment composed of sensors
and triggers, sound and video - a room whose purpose was to accommodate the mood
and behaviour of its inhabitants. MQM was a bouncy-castle for the mind.
The virtual environment installed in Linden Gallery by Paine and Madoc was composed
of trigger pads concealed in the floor; light beams intersecting the room to sense
movement; video projection on three walls; and speakers which, like the projected
images, responded to movement. By shifting oneself around the room it was possible to
generate a variety of responses from the sound and video sources stored in a small room
next door. And after setting off the triggers and breaking the light beams, the viewer
could integrate the external environment directly with the pattern of choices in his/her
head. The software designed to produce this effect was the result of experimentation by
Garth Paine, formerly a composer of music and now the scribe of great lists of stimuli
and reaction. Together with an archive of video compiled by Craig Madoc, this software
formed an installation which gave new meaning to the term 'cerebral architecture'.
Without the use of cumbersome interface equipment, MQM gave the mind the power to
build an environment using the body's movement to generate aural and visual
MQM responded to a static occupant by delivering a soothing and restful mixture of
images and sounds. The more adventurous occupants, those who stepped on the
triggers and walked through the light beams, were rewarded with more noises, a
confusion of images and a richer response in general. Alone in the room, the viewer
could experiment with running, ducking, waving or hiding to create a customised
environment. Viewers could be selective about what was drawn from MQM's memory
by simply adjusting their behaviour. Although I did not experience the installation this
way, control of the virtual environment could be shared by a number of inhabitants
using the triggers and responses as a means of communicating how things should
sound and look. In one instance, the artists were surprised to find 20 to 30 people
coming to agreement and choosing a shared environment without talking - they simply
edged one another to a standstill.
Standard forms of interactive engagement include the use of joysticks, keyboards,
touchpads, gloves and headsets as the means of choosing an outcome or deciding on
paths to follow through a virtual environment. As well, standard interactive formats and
virtual spaces tend to be linear, with pre-set outcomes and environments accessed from
a set menu of destinations. MQM attempted to extend the possibilities of virtual
interaction by enabling the whole space to be sensitive and the range of outcomes to be
independent of one another. That means that unlike a room in virtual reality, where one
would access a pre-recorded version of a finite environment, MQM demanded the
experience of attention to, communication with and control of an environment for the
sake of fully enjoying those moments.
There was a feeling of freedom associated with MQM interaction; the kind of freedom
one feels after chasing a tram two stops to reclaim a lost wallet. It provides that
combination of reckless humiliation and self-satisfaction where it's possible to take
what one wants out of the environment regardless of how dumb it looks to those not
taking part in the experience. This big black room with piles of river rocks in it
connected to a small white room full of CD-drives and some interesting technology is an
introvert's paradise, a bedroom with which to play on one's bored days.
© James Rowland
MESH film/video/multimedia/art #10,MESH is the journal of Experimenta
Media Arts

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